Life and Soul

Omnium Gatherum

In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, on Sunday May 1, we celebrate the feast of St Joseph, Opifex or Worker. We don’t ignore the Fifth Sunday after Easter, of course (Sixth Sunday of Easter in the Novus Ordo): prayers from the Sunday formulary are added after those for Joseph.

Joseph the Worker is a modern feast. Celebration of his principal feast on March 19 goes back to at least the 10th century. In 1870, Blessed Pius IX declared Joseph to be the patron of the Universal Church and gave him a feast on the Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter.

In 1955, however, Venerable Pius XII abolished that feast and instituted St Joseph the Worker on May 1. This was a response to communist celebrations of “May Day”, which in part commemorated a bombing, riot and massacre in Chicago in 1886 called the Haymarket Affair, the consequences of which are, according to some, still felt today around the globe.

The Collect for the feast: Rerum conditor Deus, qui legem laboris humano generi statuisti: concede propitius; ut, sancti Ioseph exemplo et patrocinio, opera perficiamus quae praecipis, et praemia consequamur quae promittis … “O God, Creator of all things, Who dost impose on the human race the law of work, grant in Thy goodness that, by the example and patronage of blessed Joseph, we may both accomplish the work Thou dost command and attain the reward Thou hast promised.”

Speaking of St Joseph the Worker, Pope St John Paul II wrote about work in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens and about Joseph in his 1989 apostolic letter Redemptoris Custos. Of work, he wrote that it is an essential part of human nature, an activity that gives us dignity, while toil is a consequence of sin. Of Joseph, he wrote: “Human work, and especially manual labour, receives special prominence in the Gospel. Along with the humanity of the Son of God, work too has been taken up in the mystery of the Incarnation, and has also been redeemed in a special way. At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.”

The Latin Church approves six litanies for official, public prayer, including one for St Joseph. Look it up and pray it. Ask your priests to lead you. Beg the help of Joseph, especially for the unemployed.